HISTORY OF THE MARK DEGREE

 

There are many degrees and side orders in Freemasonry and the newly raised Master Mason is confronted with the dilemma of which he should or could join. There is in Craft Masonry, the expectation that the candidate might logically join a Royal Arch Chapter because it was and perhaps still is regarded as the completion of the Third Degree.

 

The Royal Arch however was a point of difference between the Antients and the Moderns when it came to the union of the two Grand Lodges in 1717. The compromise reached was to accept the Royal Arch as a completion of the Third-Degree, not as a fourth degree despite the fact that it is practiced and administered separately.

 

Stonemasonry is about the building of complex structures. It has been an important feature of almost every civilisation including those in Egypt, the Bible Lands, Mesopotamia, Central and South America; the Mediterranean empires of Greece and Rome as well as the more recent. European dynasties. Masonry was not however just the preparation and placing of stone blocks but was equally about the architectural and engineering expertise that facilitated the building of these most elaborate and technically demanding structures.

 

From the perspective of speculative masonry, building became an allegorical vehicle for the teaching of a “peculiar system of morality” which in modern parlance we might refer to as living a moral life. English Craft Masonry has specifically used the building of the first temple at Jerusalem as the basis upon which the peculiar system of morality is taught. The Royal Arch uses the building of the second temple at Jerusalem to further develop the moral teachings of Masonry. Because of that, the ritual is very closely linked to the Old Testament record of the period dating from about 1000BC.

 

There are references in the ritual to the chronology of the underlying history of the Old Testament. Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656), who graduated from Trinity College in Dublin and became Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, wrote three treatises between 1648 and 1650 in which he calculated from the Old Testament that the day of creation was 22 October 4004BC. He was not the only one to have arrived at roughly the same conclusion nor did he rely solely on scripture for his calculation. Persian, Greek and Roman history together with his expertise in the Bible, biblical languages, astronomy and ancient calendars, all contributed to his chronology of what was known history in 1650. Since it was also calculated that the first temple was built about 1000BC it followed that Hiram Abif died 3000 years after the creation of the world (assuming that that had puzzled you at the time!). From the Masonic perspective, Bishop Ussher’s calculation is the basis of the Year of Light or Anno Lucius.

 

To put that in perspective the following are the key dates in the Masonic calendar. They are extracted from a timeline included in David Mitchell’s book “The Mark Degree”[1]

 

 

964BC            King Solomon started the construction of the first temple at Jerusalem

956BC            The approximate time of the death of Hiram Abif.

957BC            King Solomon completed the first temple at Jerusalem

587BC            The destruction of the first temple by Nebuzzaradan under Nebuchadnezzar and the deportation

                        of as many as  1,000,000 Jews to Babylon

539BC            Release of Jews by Cyrus, King of Persia with only about 50,000

                       returning to rebuild the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel.

169BC            The destruction of the second temple by Antiochus Epiphanes the

                        brother of the King of Syria

20AD              King Herod (the Great) undertakes the reconstruction & refurbishment

                        of the second temple usually referred to as the third temple.

70AD              The destruction of the third temple by the Romans under Titus

800AD            The beginning of a seven-year period during which Free and Operative

                        Societies of Architects, known as Freemasons emanating from the

                        Collegia Artificium came into existence as Freemasons in England,

                        Steinmetzen in Germany and Compagnonnage in France.

                        These societies were secret and operative and engaged in building ecclesiastical and other buildings.

                        They are perhaps the origin of modern Freemasonry

1717               Formation of the Grand Lodge known subsequently as the “Moderns”.

1723               First Book of Constitutions published by Dr Anderson

1751               Formation of the Grand Lodge of All England known subsequently as the

                        Antients claiming their origins dating back to 926AD.

1813               Formation of the United Grand Lodge of England which excluded the

                       degree of Mark Man and Mark Master.

1856               Formation of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons.[2]

THE ORIGINS OF MARK MASONRY

 

As you might expect, nobody is exactly sure when speculative Mark Masonry was first practiced. It was certainly in existence in the eighteenth century and Bernard Jones points out that it existed in Fellow Craft Lodges before there are any minuted records of it being practiced.[3] Mackie notes that Masonic tradition has it that Mark Men were the Wardens and the Mark Master the Master of Fellowcraft Lodges at the building of the (first) temple[4]. They distributed the marks to the workmen and undertook the first inspection of the work before it went to the Overseers. The degree of Mark Man is not worked separately in English or American Freemasonry, but it is incorporated into the Mark Degree in Mark Lodges meeting under the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of New Zealand. In English Freemasonry it is part of the Mark Degree and is associated with the degree of a Fellowcraft.

 

Notwithstanding the evolution of English Freemasonry which accommodates the Mark Man and Mark Master in various ways, as a separate degree, it was first worked in Bon Accord Lodge of Mark Master Masons in London in 1851 and the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons was formed in 1856.

 

In English Mark ritual, the candidate after demonstrating that he is qualified in all three Craft Degrees, is awarded his Mark and designated a Mark Man, without obligation, before being examined and presented by the Senior Warden. Thereafter the ceremony is entirely about the candidate becoming a Mark Master Mason. Further elaboration would spoil the ceremony, but it is quite lengthy, animated, solemn, disappointing, surprising, and rewarding. It has its lighter moments, but they should not detract from the beauty or significance of the ritual.

 

MORE HARD EVIDENCE

 

The Mark degree however had been practiced in various ways before 1851 and there is some hard evidence to support that. The Schaw Statutes of 1598 records that no Master or Fellow Craft shall be received or admitted unless the date, his name and his mark are recorded in the Lodge book. The key point is the registration of his mark. Similarly, the Lodge of Aitchison’s Haven as well as others in Edinburgh and Aberdeen recorded not only the marks of operative masons, but of gentlemen masons. In 1600 the Laird of Auchinleck confirmed the minutes of a meeting with just his mark! Lodge Doric Kilwinning No 68 in Port Glasgow unambiguously noted in its minutes in 1758 that fees would be received for admission as a Mark Master. In 1769 Thomas Dunckerley noted the making of Mark Masons and Mark Masters in a Royal Arch meeting in the George Tavern in Portsmouth. Here was evidence of two degrees in Mark Masonry and while that continues in some constitutions, they are more or less combined in English Mark Masonry. Thereafter, there are records of the Mark degree being worked in both craft lodges and Royal Arch chapters to the extent that by 1813, it was well established.

 

Despite that fact, it was excluded from the articles of union in 1813 which admitted just three degrees and the Royal Arch, it never-the-less continued to be worked and in 1856 a joint committee from the Craft and Arch successfully recommended it as an extension of the Fellowcraft degree, only to have that overturned by the Grand Lodge later that same year. In July 1856, the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons was formed with four participating lodges. By about 1858 there were fifty Mark lodges in existence, operating independently or under another governing body.

 

HIRAM ABIF AND ADONIRAM

 

To some extent the Third Degree in Craft masonry ends quite abruptly with the death of Hiram Abif. The degree of Mark Master Mason offers a successor to Hiram Abif in the person of Adoniram, who in the construction of the first temple was overseer of the 30,000 workmen engaged in the Forest of Lebanon. He is not mentioned in the ceremony of Advancement but is twice mentioned otherwise in the ritual.

 

[1] The Mark Degree, David Mitchell, Lewis Masonic 2003, Ps. 82-85

[2] The Mark Degree, David Mitchell, Lewis Masonic 2003, Ps 82-85

[3] Freemasons’ Guide and Compendium, Bernard Jones, Harrap,1956 P.531

[4] Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Albert Mackie, McClure Publishing,1917 Ps 548-551